By Susan Hale Thomas (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)
City Councilor Justin Wilson was on vacation last year when his neighbor sent a video of something quite dramatic — thousands of gallons of water were pouring over the crests of a hill above his home. The water was flowing out of the Warwick pool and into his yard below.
“He was understandably upset,” Wilson said.
The aging pool was closed at the end of last summer due to its poor condition.
“The city neglected to invest in aquatics. There was always something that was more important than a pool,” Wilson said. ”We closed Lee in 2008, Colasanto in 2011; Ewald closed on the West End and now Warwick. Warwick has been on the chopping block for two years.”
There could be a couple of cruel summers ahead for residents of the Warwick, Arlandria and Lynhaven neighborhoods as they wait for a new pool to be built. City council has allocated funding to replace the aging pool, but under current plans, construction isn’t due to begin until the summer of 2016.
Last year, then-City Manager Rashad Young included no funding for pools in his fiscal 2015 budget proposal. Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics pressured city council and were able to secure $23 million in the city’s 10-year capital plan.
Bill Rivers, chairman of the advocacy group, wants councilors to bring forward $2.3 million allocated for a new pool at Warwick from 2017 to 2016 so residents will only be forced to miss one swim season.
“We’re pleased that a commitment has been made, but we’ll have to wait for council to vote in May,” he said. “Money has been allocated but not yet authorized.”
Rivers argued it is important for lower income neighborhoods to have a swimming pool within walking distance. He worried those seeking relief from the summer heat will have to go farther to find a pool, or will not have one at all, if construction is not expedited.
“It will be difficult enough for the kids this summer, and no one wishes for them to be without access to a healthy and safe form of summer recreation for any longer than necessary,” Rivers wrote in a letter to city councilors.
Rivers said his group was working with Tenants and Workers United, a community based organization that advocates for low-income residents. Jon Liss, executive director of TWU, said it should be a fairly easy thing for council to do.
“It doesn’t seem that impossible, moving up a construction schedule by two months so that people can have a pool for two whole summers,” Liss said. “It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.”
But Wilson said even if the money were to be pulled forward, it still would be difficult to get the pool completed any sooner.
“If we leave money in 2017, Warwick would be closed the summers of 2015 and 2016 and reopen in 2017,” he said. “Because of the amount of time it takes to figure out site conditions, plan and build, it’s still not going to get done by the second summer [if we move the funding to 2016].”
William Chesley, director of the city department of recreation, parks and cultural activities, said Old Town and the Charles Houston pools will have additional evening and weekend hours to help offset the closing of Warwick.
“Funding in the amount of $29,000 is included in the fiscal 2016 budget for extended hours, allowing for additional capacity at the Old Town and Houston Memorial pools,” Chesley said. “Summer camp programs that were bused to Warwick Pool will now rotate among the indoor and outdoor pools.”
The department has included that information in the new summer program brochure and on its web page, and the city will post a sign at the Warwick Pool directing swimmers to other public pools.
“Recreation staff is in conversation with the community concerning a fee-based swim program to transport youth from the Warwick Pool to one of the other outdoor pools,” Chesley said. “This could be provided based on registration interest.”
Only three public pools are available to residents — the Rixse indoor pool at Chinquapin Park Recreation Center and two outdoor pools: Old Town Pool on Cameron Street and a small pool at Charles Houston Recreation Center.